Although the Irish were more advanced economically and socially than any of the other new immigrants, many were still unskilled laborers who found themselves competing with Italian laborers willing to work for substandard wages. The two people seem to be irreconcilable, especially in the great disparity in their concept and practice of Catholicism. While both groups considered themselves Roman Catholic, the Irish adhered strictly to the Church’s official liturgy and doctrine and revered their clergy, whereas the southern Italians showed little respect for the clergy and practiced a folk religion that had changed little since the birth of Christ.
The southern Italian religion was based on awe, fear, and reverence for the supernatural, ‘a fusion of Christian and pre-Christian elements of animism, polytheism and sorcery along with the sacraments prescribed by the Church.” These Italians believed in the power of the evil eye and in spells cast by witches that could kill a person or destroy a crop. To protect themselves against malevolent forces, a peasant family might employ an exorcist when prayers to the local patron saint, the central figure in any southern village, went unheeded.
Jerry Mangione and Ben Morreale, La Storia: Five Centures of the Italian American Experience, 326-327.